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Lessons From My Mother: Growing Up With An Executive Pioneer

05/12/2017 12:21 EDT | Updated 05/12/2017 12:22 EDT
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Young woman holding affectionately her mother, both are smiling happily, with copy space

On Mother's Day, I find myself reflecting on my role as a mother and a daughter. Often this includes thinking about the career lessons I learned from my mum, which I'm now trying to pass on to my young son and daughter.

Growing up, I was part of a small but mighty family unit that included my mum and my brother. We were a team that offered each other unconditional support -- we shared goals, celebrated victories, and were unwavering in our commitment to each other. While my mum was obviously deeply involved her kids' lives, my brother and I were also deeply involved in my mother's professional life. My mum spent her entire career at the Bank of Montreal (BMO). Starting in the junior ranks of the market research department, she worked her way up to Executive Vice-President of Human Resources, becoming one of the most senior women in Canadian business at the time.

At every point in her professional journey, my mother's career was a top priority. While she didn't start out intending to become an executive, she continuously challenged herself to do what it would take to get to the next level, and then one beyond that. She loved her career and was motivated to climb the corporate ladder by a passion for her work.

Like every person who makes their career a priority, my mother had to make tradeoffs between her personal and professional life. My mum's deep engagement in her career meant that attending every sports match and weeknight dinner was not an option. My brother and I fully understood and accepted these tradeoffs and we enjoyed the time we had: breakfast together before school, Sunday pizza nights, and wonderful family vacations. For me, an important ritual I shared with my mum was our evening chats in the sitting room as she unwound from her long day. These conversations had a huge impact on my understanding of the realities of an executive career; I heard about the big and the small, the successes and near misses, and the good and the bad.

From a young age, I spent a great deal of time with my mum's BMO team; they became my "work family." My home life and my mum's professional life blended as I established personal relationships with members of her team, her bosses and even BMO's leadership. The many connections I had to my mother's career -- knowing the characters and seeing behind the scenes -- meant that I appreciated and celebrated her victories more deeply. They were my victories, too!

People ask if I felt pressure growing up. The short answer is: No. My mother certainly set a high bar for my brother and I, but her expectations were about our meeting our potential and finding a career that we loved; they weren't about attaining a certain position, salary, or recognition. Rather than creating pressure, my mother's accomplishments served as motivation for me to achieve my own goals. My mother's love for her career was contagious and, having witnessed her career up close, I had a realistic idea of what it would take to prepare for, and take on, a leadership role of my own.

Fast forward to today, I am now a mother myself. My kids are curious about my job; they understand that I love leading eBay and that my career is a priority. As my mum did, I try to share the details of my work so they understand what I do and feel part of my 'team'. I remember my mum ecstatically running up the stairs to tell us about her promotion to vice president -- my brother and I felt like contributors to her accomplishment and shared in her joy. Celebrating victories as a family will forever be near and dear to me; I can't wait to share similar moments with my own family as my professional life develops.

My mother has offered me plenty of advice over the years but it's her steady, subtle guidance that has meant the most. As a member of the first wave of female corporate leaders, my mother was a role model to many women, including me. But, my close observation of her drive, intellectual curiosity and love of her career gave me a unique education and a tremendous advantage. I hope to be the same kind of mother for my son and daughter -- I can't wait to see what kind of rewarding careers they create for themselves.

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